When Afro Unicorn creator and CEO April Showers came up with her now multimillion dollar lifestyle brand, she did it with the intention to remind women and children of color how unique, divine and magical they truly are– and though the outspoken and savvy businesswoman always embraced her own personal magic, the irony is that at the time she wasn’t familiar with unicorns.
Before Afro Unicorn was conceived in May of 2019, Showers– an L.A. native– was a busy entrepreneur and single mother, running her insurance agency and real estate business while raising two young boys– which prompted her close friend to start calling her a unicorn.
“I had to ask him, ‘why do you keep calling me a unicorn?’, and he said it was because I can manage it all. And I was like, ‘well that’s just what women do’. And he said, ‘No, April you do it at an extraordinary level’,” Showers tells L.A. Focus.
But before Showers could embrace the compliment, she had to first really understand it.
“I really didn’t know what unicorns were, I didn’t grow up with that kind of stuff,” says Showers. “So, I Googled it. I saw that they were magical, they were unique. I’m like, okay, I’m black girl magic and definitely unique. I’m going to identify as this unicorn.”
From there Showers ran with it and began using the unicorn emoji on her phone as a sign-off on her texts, until it dawned on her that every unicorn that she had ever seen depicted was white.
“One day it hit me, I said, ‘why is it that the image that’s supposed to represent who I am, is white? Who determined that unicorns were supposed to be white?,” recalls Showers. “At that moment it no longer resonated with me. I went to find one that looked like me and I couldn’t, so instead of complaining about it, I just decided to be the change I wanted to see. That’s why I created Afro Unicorn.”
With the desire to create an icon that would represent the black girl magic she embodies and make something that can inspire young girls to embrace their power, Showers began working on a t-shirt design. She would come up with a unicorn logo with three distinct skin tones– mocha, caramel and vanilla to reflect the different complexions of her customer base– with flowing curly afro manes above her tagline: Unique. Divine. Magical.
“My goal from the beginning was to normalize black beauty, to give our black and brown girls a unicorn that represents them and also encourages them to love the skin of theirs and embrace the crowns on their head,” says Showers.
Showers began building Afro Unicorn from the ground up, collaborating with other entrepreneurs and finding success in establishing a grass roots customer base of young girls and mothers who were glad to find a brand that allowed them to project self-confidence and power in their identity.
Fate would strike in the form of a viral video which made all of Showers’ hard work pay off in the biggest way. The video was of a little girl wearing her Afro Unicorn shirt out in public taking pictures, when a passerby commented that they liked her hair. Without missing a beat, she responded with the most enthusiastic smile, “Thank you! It’s an Afro!” The adorableness of the video caused it to get millions of views as well as shares from celebrities such as Viola Davis, Tina Knowles– and then the biggest celebrity of them all– Oprah.
After Oprah’s share, Showers would receive an email from Walmart asking if she would be interested in doing a line of Afro Unicorn party supplies for their stores.
Showers struck a deal with Walmart, making Afro Unicorn the first black woman owned brand to be licensed in a major retail store. They currently have 44 individual products on Walmart shelves, 22 party supply products and 22 other assorted products from their signature apparel to makeup and beauty items and everything in between– now even Afro Unicorn birthday cakes.
And according to Showers, from the very beginning it would seem that Walmart had a big vision for her brand.
“Going into the Walmart deal I reached out for advice from an old mentor who had a brand at Walmart, and she told me to ask them for the door count, or how many different stores they would be testing the product in,” said Showers. “She said 50 to 200 would be great. But when it came up in the meeting they said a minimum of 1,000! I ended up in nearly 4,000 which is almost all of the Walmarts in the country.”
And because Afro Unicorn is licensed through Walmart they have access to all of Walmart’s partner brands, as well as manufacturing and distribution powers so quantity is never a problem. Showers says that most of her orders are now in the millions of units in each category.
Along with Walmart, Afro Unicorn products are now in Target, Kohls, and soon to be in JCPenny and Macy’s as well. The Afro Unicorn brand, which Showers says is modeled after Hello Kitty, has “four quadrant” appeal, or markets in demographics from babies to grandmothers, and has seen a rise in popularity thanks to endorsements from celebrities such as Tiffany Haddish, Alicia Keys, and Sherri Shepherd.
While the brand has seen sky-rocketing success, Showers says one of the biggest challenges she’s facing in continuing the growth of the brand is having content attached to her brand that people can consume and relate to.
“I have no content,” says Showers. “We’re competing in the same aisles as Disney princesses and Star Wars which all have stories being told and sold about them while Afro Unicorn is just the property itself. Traditionally you have content, you have a story, and then merchandise comes from that story– we’re definitely doing it the opposite way.”
To satisfy this issue, Afro Unicorn recently signed a production deal to create an animated episodic TV series as well as a future feature film.
While much of Showers’ success comes from the determined grit it takes to carry her vision, she is a strong believer in the power of lifting up those around her.
“If you’re helping enough people get to where you want to be, you’ll get to where you need to be,” says Showers. “I spend a lot of my time investing in other people and pushing them in whatever they have going on at Afro Unicorn. As a result of that hard work and those seeds we planted, the growth happens naturally.”
And even though her big break– the viral video of the little girl– may on the outside seem like pure luck, it speaks to the power of creating networks of opportunity and empowerment through her work.
“It’s interesting that a year before that video was made, the mother of that little girl sent me a birthday card that read, ‘I hope that one day we can impact your life as much as you’ve impacted ours,’ and then a year later they impacted my life in a way I can’t even put into words,” says Showers. “I really believe that investing in people is how you create opportunities for yourself. I know that if I can get you into a place where you become the gatekeeper, it makes it easier for me to access those doors.”
Beyond that, Showers says it’s her faith that guides her and has a daily routine of prayer and gratitude is one of her secrets to success.
“Every day I write down ten things that I’m grateful for because there is something powerful when you release gratitude– you are telling God what gifts you are thankful for. So, I write down my master goals and I write ten things I am grateful for currently. When you write it down and go back through it, it becomes your bible. Every quarter I go back through what I’ve written and check what I’ve done– and in the long run I almost always get them all done.”